Coyote Mercury

words, birds and whatever else by James Brush


After days on the road, Robbie ran out of numbers for counting road signs and clouds, which was fine since he’d already counted all of them anyway. He switched to counting things that weren’t there and ticked imaginary numbers off in his head whenever he didn’t see something.

He thought he didn’t see a motorcycle but the absence was only a mirage, he realized when a black-clad biker gang rumbled past, stirring the desert to thunderous life before returning to the kind of silence that inspired Robby to consider counting things he didn’t hear as well as things unseen.

He thought he didn’t hear a coyote, so he eased his pickup off the highway to make sure the animal wasn’t there before adding it to his tally. Robby was scrupulously honest with himself about all things and wanted to ensure the accuracy of his count especially since the coyote, if it wasn’t there, would be the 500ith item on his list.

When he stepped out of his truck, the wind tore at his hair and clawed his jacket. He looked around trying to see if there was nothing there to count, but the desert, much to Robby’s disappointment, was full of things and besides he wanted that coyote to be the 500ith thing that wasn’t there. Nearly i0 hours from the road, he didn’t see the coyote, which wasn’t sitting in a three-legged chair. He resisted the urge to count the chair’s missing leg.

He approached iCoyote slowly and knelt before his absence, staring up at the thin clouds in the sky where iCoyote’s head would have been.

“I thought I’d be able to see you,” Robbie whispered, his voice nearly lost in the wind as he added iCoyote to his tally.

“Divide out the i’s,” iCoyote didn’t say.

Robbie thought back to half-remembered math classes, wondered if i worked like a variable, could be solved like x. “I’d have to do that to both sides of the equation, wouldn’t I?” Robby asked and noticed that he’d lifted his hands like an equal sign between them. “To balance it out, right?”

iCoyote didn’t say, “You’ll get your proof.”

Robbie divided out the i and saw the coyote grinning at him from the chair. The coyote hopped down, walked through Robbie as if he were a mere fraction reduced to the lowest terms of what he had been, and trotted off in the direction of Robbie’s truck.

Robbie looked around and saw all the things that weren’t there. He subtracted frantically, his list cratering before his open eyes. In the distance, he didn’t hear his engine start and he didn’t hear it drive down the highway without him.

This is a response to Read Write Poem prompt #111, a picture of a guy kneeling in front of an empty three-legged chair. It’s a remarkable photo.

I never know what to label stuff like this. Short story? Flash fiction? Prose poem? Prose poem feels right since that’s the intention I started with.

I have no idea if I got the math right. As with Robbie, my math classes were a long time ago.

Be sure to read what others did with this prompt.


  1. I like how both this piece and the original photograph interrogate the assumption “seeing is believing” — can we trust our vision? how can we prove what we think we see or know? how can we see what we don’t see, or know what we don’t know? Conundrums which are visual, mathematical (made visual through form), and verbal.

  2. the sensation of abandonment at the end is powerful.

    you have created a wonderful character and backstory for the image!

  3. The label I would put on this is “exceptional” no matter the genre. What a fine piece. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    • Thank you, Julie. I appreciate that. I sometimes struggle to figure out genres, but then I guess in the end it’s probably not that big a deal.

  4. Very good storytelling!


  5. This is great. I really like the play on “imaginary numbers.”

    • Thanks, Nathan. I’ve been fascinated by imaginary numbers ever since high school calculus, which I only poorly understood, but really liked. Except for the homework, of course.

  6. I love the way there’s nothing there – nothing heard, nothing seen – that it can all be removed by simple math. A novel piece.

    • Thanks, Tumblewords. There’s a certain beauty to the way equations can be balanced and rearranged that I find quite riveting.

  7. That is the Coyote thing to have done, numerable or not.
    A most enjoyable encounter

  8. I’m enough of a geek to love this. The idea of counting things that are not there!

  9. You bent my expectation with this piece. I see “iCoyote” and I think the land of the interwebs, the virtual…but then I am seeing a variable littered throughout the landscape of your poem. And all the things your speaker didn’t see and hear…maybe this is the land of the virtual? I don’t know. But I love this piece. Great work this week.


    • Thanks, Nicole. After I posted it, it occurred to that it could sound like some kind of apple virtual coyote especially since I posted it the day apple released the iPad.

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